Mukesh Sharma from Belfast Mela: We have amazing cultural diversity in Northern Ireland

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Co-founder of Belfast Mela, Mukesh Sharma


Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

I'm usually up somewhere between 6am and 7am and then I respond to friends and family WhatsApp groups in America, Canada and Asia that have bombarded my phone overnight. After that, I'll check news and social media... and have a cup of masala tea (ginger/fennel/cloves/cardamom).


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Toast with a cup of tea or else some fruit.


Sandwich or fruit. Sometimes, I go without.

Evening meal?

I'm a vegetarian, so depending on my mood or social calendar, I'll have an Indian vegetable curry, pizza or a Mexican dish.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

As a diabetic, nutrition is very important to me. I don't take any supplements but I try, where possible, to keep my carbs and sugar intake very low and make sure that natural foods like fresh vegetables, fruit and wholesome cereals are in my diet.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

My idea of weight loss has always had the same principle - eat the same as you always do, but eat less. That way you avoid cravings for what you've cut out. Sometimes, when I go off track and binge for a week (like recently when I was away on a fabulous cruise with my family on holidays), I find it's very easy to get back to my original shirt size in just a week by eating smaller portions. That's my theory and it works for me.


Weekend treat?

An extra glass or two of something nice and chilled.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Walk, walk, walk... I can often be found walking along the Lough shore with Holly, my dog. I try to do between 10,000 and 15,000 steps every day.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Just keep walking.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I played basketball and loved it. The only bad experience I remember was doing a tricky exercise when I joined the Boys' Brigade. It was 'pyramids' and I had to stand on top of three other boys. I made it right to the top of the pyramid, then fell headfirst onto a very hard wooden floor and ended up in hospital.


Teetotal or tipple?

Occasional wee tipple.


Stairs or lift?

Always the stairs, where possible.


What book are you currently reading?

Nothing at the minute as I have a habit of starting books and never finishing them because I get distracted by something else. My reading passion is news, so I'm often found with my head in a newspaper in a local café or on my phone checking out a news alert that has come through.


Best Netflix?

I'm into a lot of Indian films, thrillers and drama and enjoy some of the short serials, the most recent one being Sacred Games - a really great thriller about criminal gangs and police.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

That I can be creative in the garden when I try. I've laid two lawns, removed invasive hedging and created a new garden at the front of the house. I could always cook curries, but I tried baking cakes and learned very quickly that unlike when you're making a curry, baking requires precise measurements and timing.


Any new skills or hobbies?

The gardening interest soon died after lockdown and I've had no new inspiration... yet.


How do you relax?

I enjoy music, mostly Indian. I play the tabla and harmonium and I enjoy singing. I find this really relaxing and a really good way to calm a mad day. I played at an amazing Connections concert earlier this week in St Anne's Cathedral. Composer Neil Martin and I were joined by 13 global musicians living in Northern Ireland to celebrate cultural diversity as part of this year's eight-day Belfast Mela Festival.


What are your goals for 2022/23?

To ensure that my daughter's wedding is an absolutely fabulous day.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

Normally, around 11.30pm to midnight when it then takes me an hour to get to sleep. I always feel like I haven't slept at all.


Biggest gripe?

Restaurants offering eggs and fish as a vegetarian option.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

My desire to be more socially and environmentally responsible has become very prominent in my priorities as I see more and more need for us all to support those around us and improve our surroundings. The world has changed and continues to change. Covid will become a thing of the past soon and something else will take over – poverty, global warming, more wars... whatever it might be, it will affect us all.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

No, it hasn't really changed my attitude towards my own mortality, but it has certainly made me more aware of the value of all human life. It was horrible going through months of watching news reports and deaths being reported like a score in a sports stadium, comparing first the four UK nations, then nations across the world. We all lost friends and family and it all happened so quickly.

Belfast Mela Day takes place on Sunday at Botanic Gardens from 12 noon to 6pm.